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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: Conservatives seeking mythical past

November 4, 2012

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Well, I sure got that one wrong.

Four years ago, on the eve of the last presidential election, I wrote in this space of how the country has spent much of the last three decades “re-litigating” the 1960s, arguing over the changes wrought in that decade. As far as social justice is concerned, of course, the 1960s stand second only to the 1860s as the most profoundly transformative decade in American history. It was in those years that black folks came off the back of the bus, women came out of the kitchen, Hispanics came off the margins and gay people first peeked beyond the closet.

Conservatives have been trying to repeal the decade ever since, a crusade that seemed to reach its greatest clarity and lowest depth in the rush to define a certain jug-eared senator from Illinois who was, in 2008, running for president. He stood to become the first black man to hold that job. This was not an incidental thing.

For his supporters, it helped make him the embodiment of “hope” and “change,” the renewal of inchoate liberal promises that died with Robert F. Kennedy. For his detractors, it was the realization of every paranoia-drenched, racially tinged threat to the white picket fences and Mom’s apple pie of status quo.

“You know what I hope Barack Obama is?” I wrote in 2008. “I hope he is reconciliation — the end of the 1960s at long last. And the beginning of something new.”

He wasn’t. That’s what I got wrong.

There are, after all, many words you could use to describe the period from 2008 to now. “Reconciliation” is not one of them. To the contrary, the nation has endured a four-year temper tantrum of shrillness and ferocity nearly unparalleled in history. You have to go back to the 1960s, or maybe even the 1850s, to find a time when America was this angry with itself.

Far from putting the ‘60s to rest, we have seen a fresh assault on what had previously been considered the settled gains of that era. I mean, who could have predicted this election season would see debates on women’s reproductive health? Or, that we’d have to defend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Or that the state of Arizona would ban ethnic studies classes? Or that there would be a new attack on the right of public workers to unionize? And that’s not to mention the new onslaught of coded racial slurs. They still say Obama wasn’t born in the U.S.A. Just the other day, Mitt Romney surrogate John Sununu, honest to God, called him “lazy.”

Lord, have mercy. It’s like they can’t help themselves.

“Restore Our Future” goes the name of a conservative super PAC. It seems increasingly obvious, though, that the idea here is to restore our past. Except, it’s less a real past than a collective yearning for the perceived simplicity and normalcy of yesterday. And it is not “ours” in any sense, belonging instead to the collective memory of those who had the color, gender, ethnicity or sexual orientation that signified rightness back in that mythic long ago.

In a word, it is not real — and never was.

Yet, the power it holds over conservative minds is proved in the decibel level of the temper tantrum, the desperate fury of the resistance. We have seen rocks flying through windows and weapons taken to presidential speeches. We have seen the president called the antichrist and accused of favoring white slavery. We have seen brazen schemes of voter suppression that must have Fannie Lou Hamer spinning in her grave.

Now, finally, we see Election Day. You will find no words about reconciliation here this time around, no suggestion the ‘60s might finally be at an end. Just a lament for the naive optimism that made such a suggestion possible — and for a nation where, these days, optimism is often devoured by rage.

It turns out the mythic past dies harder than anyone ever knew.

— Leonard Pitts Jr. is a columnist for the Miami Herald. He chats with readers from noon to 1 p.m. CDT each Wednesday on www.MiamiHerald.com.

Comments

Agnostick 1 year, 5 months ago

Skippeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!

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booyalab 1 year, 5 months ago

Without a doubt, the finest impression of a political Andy Rooney I've ever seen.

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 5 months ago

How's about a brave new future where an overwhelmed amateur President doesn't add $6 trillion to the national debt in a single term?

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Milton Bland 1 year, 5 months ago

Pitts has spread more hatred throughout the black community, along with the harmful effects, than the KKK ever imagined. Way to go Lenny!

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Armstrong 1 year, 5 months ago

"History can move backward as well as forward." History can't move forward only change. Funny you would say something to that effect however. What did Barry promise '08 Change and what is the slogan for '12 Forward. Barry has done neither

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 5 months ago

Rights are not god given. It is human beings who recognize the innate rights of human beings. Rights must be continually fought for and actively maintained by the actions and will of people.

History can move backward as well as forward.

Eternal vigilance is the cost of freedom.

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yourworstnightmare 1 year, 5 months ago

Womens' suffrage is the next target.

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grammaddy 1 year, 5 months ago

Liberals=Progressives= moving FORWARD.

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Cait McKnelly 1 year, 5 months ago

I'm turning 60 years old soon, This past election season has been a mind blower. For some reason I keep hearing this little voice in my head saying, "We have to fight this ^%$# all over AGAIN?"

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headdoctor 1 year, 5 months ago

This coming from someone who is well practiced at doing the same thing over and over expecting different results. What is the twisted fascination with having to be on a small mid-Western news paper forum?

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revenge_voter 1 year, 5 months ago

Pitts has really demonstrated his own hatred for his own party, in that they failed the black community and have been with all of their candy-coated rhetoric and a meaningless helping hand. Pitts can't admit it, yet knows it's true---and therefore all things sinister originate on the right side of the aisle. Same thing the Obama campaign dufuses repeat over and over.

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tange 1 year, 5 months ago

This is how mindreaders think: if I squint my ears just right, that voice in my head doesn't sound like my own at all.

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Liberty_One 1 year, 5 months ago

So Pitts is basically saying that the changes of the 1960s are a package deal. If you outwardly say that you don't want part of them, then that means you secretly must not want all of them. So if you are against government involvement in health care, which would include Medicare, Medicaid and now Obamacare, you must also be against desegregation and women's rights.

Of course the problem with this is that Pitts is assuming the conclusion that he's trying to make.

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tange 1 year, 5 months ago

You can lead a quadricorn to water, but you can't make him think.

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Armstrong 1 year, 5 months ago

Correct me if I'm wrong but didn't Barry run in '08 on the falsehood of bringing the country together ?

Just read an article about Barrys latest campaign slogan " Revenge ! " When all the slick packaging has worn off and you have to run on substance and record without a teleprompter you are just left grasping at whatever you think may help you out. Even a complicit media can't bail Barry out of his failures and record. Sorry Koolaid drinkers Barry is 1 and done.

It will be fun to watch Chrissy Mathews and Larry O'Donnell explode on election night however.

2

revenge_voter 1 year, 5 months ago

This column like many others I've read (and TV commentary) are the last gasps of a desperate bid to keep Obama in power.

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jafs 1 year, 5 months ago

In a way that's right.

Liberals work for a future that's better than our past and present, and one that doesn't exist yet, but may if we work towards it.

In a number of ways, they've been successful at that, thank goodness.

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Eybea Opiner 1 year, 5 months ago

Liberals seeking mythical future.

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fiddleback 1 year, 5 months ago

So many bitter partisans repeat the coded racist/xenophobic language without seeming remotely aware of the primitive hatred they perpetuate. Disagree with Obama's policies, fine, but all these insinuations about Manchurian Candidate-esque conspiracies, whether it's his boyhood exposure to Islam, or his Kenyan father, or the paths he chose in teaching law, civil rights, and community organizing, are clearly based on ascribing to Obama an absolutely evil other-ness. Perhaps it's just another generational dilemma that so many boomers and older citizens grew up in communities where barely-veiled bigotry towards other cultures, complexions, and most other things not fully understood, was simply the standard attitude?

And sure, maybe it's partially reciprocating the rising vitriol of GWB's terms. But still, this has definitely reached new lows. Back then, some hyperbolically called Bush a fascist, so I'd expect their counterparts to glibly label Obama a communist/socialist. There's the fringe "truther" contingent that accused Bush & co. of orchestrating 9-11, so "birther"-ism, or "death panels," or the idea that Obama orchestrated recent mass shootings to pass gun laws, or the myriad other unhinged paranoid fantasies, are not really all that shocking taken in isolation. The problem is when such fringe fantasies become mainstream. The extent to which these patent fictions gain currency, esp. via cynical allusions by national leadership, is an outright disgrace. Of course, by the time this filth floats downstream through the dumbest talking point parrots and frothing partisan lapdogs, it creates a rancid stew seasoned with all the most prejudiced elements of our country's not-so-distant past. Whatever meat of actual issues hides in this dreck is a punishment to discern. Indeed, with this level of toxicity and paranoid nonsense, the near-impossibility of grounded, civil, dispassionate dialogue seems more comparable to the 1860s than the 1960s.

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Flap Doodle 1 year, 5 months ago

"...Indeed, with this level of toxicity and paranoid nonsense, the near-impossibility of grounded, civil, dispassionate dialogue seems more comparable to the 1860's than the 1960's..." Telling people to vote as revenge is right down that alley, wouldn't you say?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 1 year, 5 months ago

As Stephen Colbert puts it in the title to his latest book--

America Again: Re-becoming the Greatness We Never Weren't

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Armstrong 1 year, 5 months ago

Very predictable, thanks Len. Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z Z

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Mike Ford 1 year, 5 months ago

beating the trolls....priceless.....it must really blow when you your position is soooo weak that you have to turn reality on it's head to make a factless point much as conservatives do. sorry it shouldn't be 1955 or 1855 again for that matter. sorry that reality never it existed in the first place. sorry you don't realize that some people had to stage sit ins at restaurant counters in woolworths to make racists and their clueless supporters of segregation to acknowledge the validity of the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments almost a century after their enactments due to Jim Crow laws. Now we have Juan Crow laws and you people are still in denial to the offensiveness of your actions. Denial is weak and pathetic.

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